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Sephora's Eco-Chic Evolution: Embracing Clean Beauty and Planet Awareness

Published March 31, 2024
Published March 31, 2024
Troy Ayala

At the ChangeNOW summit in Paris, Sephora's President and CEO Guillaume Motte, Global CMO Deborah Yeh, and Global Chief Merchandising Officer Priya Venkatesh took to the stage to announce the retailer's next steps in sustainability. During the talk, it was revealed that only one-third of Sephora's carbon emissions are created from its own internal operations, with the remaining contribution coming from the products it stocks. Highlighting the importance of stocking brands that align with the retailer's sustainability goals, Sephora outlined a tunnel vision plan towards a more responsible and transparent beauty industry for brands, consumers, and retailers, announcing an expansion for its Clean at Sephora seal, as well as the launch of a new Planet Aware seal.

"We believe at Sephora we are in a unique position where we can actually bring together three superpowers," Motte assured, addressing Sephora's clients, stocked brands, and internal team. "As the global beauty leader in retail, we want to build a more responsible offer working hand-in-hand with our brand partners. We want to offer more transparency for our consumers so that they can influence and help us build a more responsible beauty industry. Our ambition is to harmonize and come up with a collective and common vocabulary across all regions."

Clean at Sephora, which initially launched in the US in 2018 with 50 brands, now includes 133 brands. To qualify for the Clean at Sephora seal alongside brands such as Fenty Skin, Gisou, and Kosas, products must have effective formulas that meet global regulatory standards and do not contain SLS and SLES, parabens, formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing agents, phthalates, mineral oil, retinyl palmitate, oxybenzone, coal tar, hydroquinone, triclosan, and triclocarban. Clean at Sephora products must also contain less than 1% of synthetic fragrances and no undisclosed fragrances.

The new seal, Planet Aware at Sephora, will launch with products from 40 brands, including Caudalie, Glow Recipe, and Saie. To be granted the seal, products must fit over 30 required criteria regarding ingredient sourcing and formulation, packaging, corporate commitments, and consumer transparency. Both seals will be rolled out in Sephora stores across Europe and the UK in April, shortly followed by the Middle East in May, and Mexico and Brazil in September, with a rollout in China dated for 2025.

Yeh believes that consumers are "voting with their wallets" as increases in sales for sustainably positioned products continue. Specifically, 67% of consumers seek sustainable beauty products, and 76% say they intend to shop more with retailers offering environmentally friendly products and services. "But of course, it's hard to navigate the beauty category. So how do they go about finding and searching for products that meet their personal preferences and values?" Yeh questioned, appointing the seals of approval as a new way to guide consumers in a difficult landscape.

"We want to offer more transparency for our consumers so that they can influence and help us build a more responsible beauty industry."
By Guillaume Motte, President + CEO, Sephora

The expansion of Sephora's sustainability commitment comes shortly after Judge David Hurd of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York sided with Sephora in its battle against Spencer Sheehan of Sheehan & Associates. The legal dispute began in November 2022, after a class action complaint requesting a jury trial was filed in New York's Northern Federal District Court against Sephora USA on behalf of Lindsey Finster, a resident of Oneida, New York, and "others similarly situated" over confusion about products sold as "clean" under Sephora's Clean at Sephora program.

The judge's 14-page response stated that the plaintiff "failed to plausibly allege that Sephora misled reasonable consumers when it marketed and sold its 'Clean at Sephora' cosmetics" or that Sephora "made any explicit or implied promises that its 'Clean at Sephora' cosmetics were all-natural and free of any potentially harmful ingredients." Sephora's win, in this case, is also a win for the industry, drawing a line in the sand and better insulating similar programs from the threat of consumer complaints seeking lucrative damages and settlements while allowing for the program's expansion without a falsely accused negative reputation.

Sephora believes the two seals will encourage beauty brands to make more sustainably minded choices in their development phases and corporate commitments. In addition, partner brands can also utilize Novi Connect, a custom-vetting tool that works in conjunction with Sephora, allowing brands to assess their products against the two seals.

Other retailers, including Sephora's competitor, Ulta Beauty, have showcased the success of like-minded seals of approval. The retailer's Conscious Beauty program, which follows similar criteria requirements, debuted in 2020 and has since led to a 14% increase in certifications annually. This means brands are adapting their products to fit the requirements and wearing retailers' sustainable badges with pride.

By aligning with the growing consumer demand for sustainable beauty options, beauty retailers are reducing their environmental impact and appealing to socially conscious shoppers, raising their revenue while making a positive difference and encouraging other businesses to do so. "We believe we can play a role in building an even more responsible beauty industry," concluded Motte.


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